Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 17, 1961

Individual And Church Action

Thomas O'neal, Jasper, Alabama

The idea that whatever the individual Christian does, the church does, is an argument made by some in the past and still being made today. To say that much confusion has existed and exists today in the minds of some as to whether there is a difference in the two is to state the case mildly.

In order to support any false doctrine, men have made all kinds of arguments in an effort to justify their idol. The primary aim is not to be concerned with whether the argument will stand the test, but the concern has been to give comfort to those preaching the false doctrine that whatever the individual Christian does the church does.

In this article we propose to show some reasons, Scriptural reasons, opposing the idea that whatever the Christian does, the church does.

This point needs to be made just here. We understand that the church is made up of individuals and that the action of the church is dependent upon the action of individuals. Also we know that there are times when one Christian is working and it can be properly said that the church is working. For example, when a congregation sends a preacher to preach the gospel in some place, it can be said that the church is preaching the gospel. Paul declares of the "church of the Thessalonians" that "for from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to Godward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing." (1 Thess. 1:8) It is evident that the church as a group did not go preaching, although this, preaching the gospel, certainly took place; but this was done by individuals (agents) acting for the congregation.

We now call to your attention a number of passages that show a difference between church action and individual action. The first is Mt. 18:15-17. "Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church, but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican." Now, if the idea is true that whatever is individual action is church action, then when one brother goes to another brother to "tell him his fault," we would have one church going to another church to tell the other church of its fault. If this does not get the desired results, then take two or three witnesses. This would be one church taking two or three other churches with it. If this still does not bring the results desired, then tell it to the church. But according to the idea that whatever the individual does the church does, the church was told the very thing! Stated another way, when I talked to my erring brother the first time, I would be talking to the church.

The second passage of scripture that we want to notice is Gal. 2:11: "But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face because he was to be blamed."

Again if the idea that whatever the individual does, the church does, be true, then here is one church withstanding another church.

Our next passage for study is 1 Cor. 5:1: "It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father's wife." If the doctrine be true that whatever the individual does the church does, then here is a church that took another church and committed fornication!

1 Tim. 5:16 is a passage that shows there is a work for the individual which is not to be done by the church. Paul said, "If any man or woman that believeth have widows, let them relieve them, and let not the church be charged ...." Here is a work that men and women being Christians and having widows that Paul says they are to do and the church is not to do. How would Inspiration have to make a thing clearer than this for us to see and understand? Paul continues, "that it (the church) may relieve them that are widows indeed." Here is made the distinction that the Christian has one work to do — that of relieving his aged widow or parents, and the church has another work to do--that being the relief of widows indeed.

The last passage we will notice in this article is Mt. 25:31-46. Being rather lengthy, we ask the reader to pick up his New Testament and read the passage cited just now. The most recent argument that this writer has heard made along the line that whatever the individual does the church does, is that churches will stand before God in judgment. To mention that I live near Jasper, Alabama, the home of Gus Nichols, is enough said as to the origin of the idea! Both Mt. 25:31-46 and Paul in 2 Cor. 5:10 along with the Hebrews passage 9:27 teach that we will stand in judgments as individuals and not churches.

Brother Harvey J. Williams wrote, (via Westvue Messenger, Vol. III, No. 13, May 2, 1961), "Mr. X is a Christian; and a husband and father; and he belongs to the P.T.A.; he is also, let us say a State Senator. Mr. X is a golfer, too. So, one day he plays a game of golf. Does this mean that the church, the family, the P.T.A. and the Legislature are playing a game of golf? Mr. X- is a member of all these "bodies." And, so some say, "You can't separate a member from the body." However, either the Lord both can and will separate some members from the body or John 15:6, Rev. 3:4-5 and such passages mean nothing."